Lucy's Life of Crime
I wrote this a few months back, and had mixed feelings about posting it. Does it betray Lucy? I hope not. We all make mistakes, and I am happy to report, she hasn't stolen anything since.
* * *
I’m used to hearing all sorts of things about my Lucy.
She has such beautiful hair! (I know. She doesn’t get it from me.)
She’s so friendly! (To a fault – she even introduces herself to panhandlers outside of Starbucks.)
She’s very articulate! (Yes, perhaps you’d like to converse with her at 2 a.m., when she’s decided it’s time for a “girl party” in the big bed.)
Your daughter is a liar and a thief.
There’s description I never expected to hear. And yet, that’s exactly what happened Friday afternoon when I got from my part-time job and checked voicemail. It was the teacher, delivering the bad news – more diplomatically, perhaps. But the punch was the same.
The boy across the aisle had seen Lucy take the $2 from her neighbor’s desk and give it to another child in class; she denied doing so when the teacher inquired after a classroom-wide search turned up nothing.
And so began my daughter’s life of crime, and my life as a heartbroken mother.
I immediately flashed forward to smoking, sex and drugs in her teenage years (by her, not me, unfortunately). Clumsy bank robberies instead of college would no doubt follow. I think a tiny part of me even considered what I’d wear to her first jury trial: a navy blue suit, white blouse, pearls. And sunglasses -- indoors, of course -- so no one would be able to tell I’d been bawling.
To quote my niece, who at age six wept at the sight of a weird-looking plate of stuffed French toast, “It’s not what I expected!”
Where did I go wrong? And could I still love this child?
For about five minutes, I did not love her. She knew stealing was wrong. Just the week before, we’d talked about the time my diaper bag got stolen out of the car, and how mean it was for someone to have done that.
She also knew lying was wrong. We’d read books like, “The Boy Who Cried Wolf” and “Matilda Who Told Lies and Was Burned to Death.” (It’s quite a nice little poem, actually.)
I’d called her on little fibs I’d hear her tell during my volunteer hours in her classroom – like the time she said she said she spent the entire weekend watching TV. It was only part of the weekend, scout’s honor.
“Lucy,” I’d told her a few times, “if you lie some of the time, people will think you’re lying all of the time, and they won’t believe you any of the time.”
Apparently this logic doesn’t work on a 5-year-old.
“Why did you do it?” I asked.
“I don’t know,” she said, weeping and trembling in my arms.
After this, I loved her again. But I still wanted to know why she did it. I really wanted there to be a reason. Maybe, I thought, it was because the boy she gave the money to was the one we’d secretly given a backpack because we knew his family couldn’t afford to buy one. Maybe she was just playing Robin Hood.
“Why did you give him the money?” I asked her. “Why him?”
“I don’t know,” she said, her face twisting with sadness. “I really don’t.”
The next few days were dark ones. There would be no television at all that weekend. None. And I felt duty-bound to discuss what she’d done over and over again, just to make sure she got the message.
Then I looked at the artwork she’d made instead of watching television. Where she usually draws our family all gathered around a giant Lucy, she drew herself small, and off to the side. She also inscribed big hearts around our names, but left her own name on the outside, with a giant X drawn through it. I made her erase it, and put her name back inside the heart.
Still, that slashing X could have been drawn on my own heart, though, for how I felt. She gets it, I thought. She gets it all too well. And now’s the time I need to help her heal.
We wrote notes of apology to her teacher, her classmate, and the volunteer mom who’d helped search the classroom for the missing money. Then when Monday morning came, the time I usually spend helping out in class, Lucy and I held hands and walked into school together.
I was wishing I had a pair of sunglasses when she handed her note to the boy she’d taken the money from; he rejected it loudly because she hadn’t spelled his name correctly.
But this was nothing compared to how I felt that afternoon when I picked Lucy up, hoping to go home and celebrate a better day. She waited at the foot of the flagpole, and zoomed toward me, looking a bit pale, as soon as she saw me walk on campus.
Her teacher followed. And I could tell by her walk that she had something to tell me.
With my two-year-old on my shoulders, I braced myself. Lucy planted herself behind me.
“Lucy cut the fish net,” the teacher told me. “And then she lied about it.”
Apparently the crime wasn’t a fresh one. She’d done it almost a week earlier, two days before taking the money.
“Is that true, Lucy?” I asked. I tried to look her in the eye, but she kept hiding behind my back. Every time I turned, she moved.
“Lucy, what happened last week that made you do something like this?” I asked, still trying to make eye contact. As she kept dancing behind my back, I felt my body fill with a toxic combination of sadness and rage. Without even thanking the teacher, I left, instructing Lucy to follow me to the car.
She wept the whole way home from school. My two-year-old kept trying to console her. “It’s OK, DeeDee. Don’t cry.”
“It’s NOT OK!” I said. “Lucy did a bad thing. It is NOT OK!”
When we got home, Lucy went upstairs to her bedroom. I found her there twenty minutes later, asleep. I crawled into the bunk next to her and held her in my arms. Her forehead felt hot, and the skin around her eyes was chapped from crying.
“Why did you do it, Lucy?” I whispered.
She woke up. “I don’t know. I hate myself. I hate myself.”
“But I love you,” I told her. “No matter what.”
And I knew that I meant it. I also knew that some mistakes at age five wouldn’t necessarily translate into a life of crime later.
My job of course, is to teach her right from wrong. But it it’s also to do something more: to help her keep her name on the inside of the heart, both in her drawings, and in her mind.
Next time she draws her name on the outside, I’m not going to have her erase it and insist she stay inside the lines. Next time something like this happens – for there certainly will be a next time -- I’m going to draw a bigger heart. As big as it takes.